When the Oak Bluffs Land Wharf Company built Oak Bluffs, the homes, hotels and buildings were constructed of wood, perhaps, as my father suggested, out of Loblolly pine — a fast-growing tree grown throughout the southeast coast. Clay from the old brickyard in Menemsha was used for bricks. Making bricks from clay required heat by burning wood, and from the mid 1700s to 1930 when the yard operated, this consumption of both proved unsustainable. As a result, my family home, for example, is one of only a few with a brick basement in the Cottage City Historic District.
When my folks bought the house, with our first summer in 1955, they said the climate would help my allergies and asthma. This was before we recognized things like attention deficit disorders — before realizing that giving children antihistamines was the equivalent of dosing them with speed — and I wasn’t the best kid anyway.
The true story, though, was that we came the first time as two families. The dads were both engineers and the moms were stay-at-homes with young ones. Both modern moms believed that Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care was the kid instruction manual, and the more liberal of the two mothers was Ann Margetson, whose idea it was to share a summer vacation in Oak Bluffs.
My sister Debbie, my brother Glenn, and the Margetson sons, Neil and Evan, have stories, too, but I get to write mine.
Ann Margestson wasn’t black like the rest of us and her husband Desi. She was white, but back then we children didn’t know all that was a big deal. We knew the tiny house on Dukes County avenue was where we were forced to sleep (Neil didn’t like sleeping) and play games on rainy days (Glenn didn’t play well with others). We knew we all liked peanut butter and jelly, and tuna sandwiches (I still do) at the Inkwell, where we stayed in the water from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or until we turned purple and wrinkly. I didn’t like leaving the water, and when I got cranky it was usually Ann who would take me for a walk on the beach. Her quiet voice calmed me down, and while talking about my behavior, she would stop for us to discover beach glass, and mysteriously enough, parts of bricks worn smooth like beach glass. Over the years I managed to find two whole bricks; one newish and the other weathered and bearing the name Sage. They were the first thing I thought of when another brother, Evan, told me his mom had died.
It turns out that the prized bricks and pieces we found were probably made on Fisher Island, between the Connecticut and Long Island shorelines, by De Witt Clinton Sage’s Fisher Island Brick Manufacturing Company. Many municipal buildings in Massachusetts — and maybe some here — used Sage bricks. The hurricane of 1938 conspired to close the company, making it imaginable that Sage bricks on our shores may have had the assistance of nature in getting here. I still have those bricks and a bunch of beach glass, collected since the days when Aunt Ann showed me how to find them.
Ann Margetson was also an artist. She built the walkway at her house on Wamsutta with bricks she found at the Inkwell. They remain, enhanced with the patina of moss.
She died on April 20 in New York city at the age of 82.
I’m grateful for the memories, but I’ll miss Ann, especially on those days when I’m searching for beach glass — and brick parts.